Week in review: 12 biggest healthcare stories this week

Stay in the know with Becker's Hospital Review's weekly roundup of the nation's biggest healthcare news. Here's what you need to know this week.

1. HCA: Arguments against health reform law are 'absurd'
Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America filed a friend-of-the-court brief in King v. Burwell, the case that will determine whether people in all states will receive health insurance subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the brief, HCA shows strong support for keeping health insurance subsidies in all states saying the petitioners' legal theory in the case would lead to "absurd consequences." HCA is not the only major healthcare player to come out in support of keeping subsidies in all states — the American Hospital Association joined by the Federation of American Hospitals, Association of American Medical Colleges, and America's Essential Hospitals also recently submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in King v. Burwell. The case is set to be heard by the Supreme Court March 4.

2. White House announces new cybersecurity agency
The U.S. government plans to establish a new agency to address cyber threats called the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, according to the Washington Post. The main focus of the center will be to analyze potential risks based on information contributed by the private sector. The new division will pull information and resources from the cybersecurity sectors of other government agencies, such as the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

3. AHA: Medicare ACO program is too much risk, not enough reward
The American Hospital Association wrote a letter calling on CMS to makes changes to its December 2014 proposed rule for the Medicare Shared Savings Program. AHA believes accountable care organizations in the program should be able to share in more of their generated savings to support coordinated care. In its letter, AHA gave CMS several suggestions, such as allowing ACOs to take on more risk at their own pace, permitting specific payment waivers to streamline coordination and adjusting performance metrics to account for regional cost differences and past performance, among others.

4. King vs. Burwell could lower healthcare spending
King v. Burwell challenges healthcare reform's authorization of federal tax credits for low- and middle-income individuals who purchase insurance from the exchanges. According to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, eliminating tax credits would mean more uncompensated care with less spending on hospitals, physicians and pharmaceuticals. If the Supreme Court rules against the tax credits to lower insurance premium costs, healthcare spending would fall 35 percent, and 8.2 million Americans in 34 states would lose coverage.

5. Wyoming Senate rejects Medicaid expansion
The Wyoming Senate defeated a bill to expand the Medicaid program in the state, according to a Desert News report. The bill, which would have provided healthcare coverage to approximately 17,600 people in Wyoming, was killed in a 19-11 vote. The Wyoming Senators who voted against the bill did so for various reasons. Some said they didn't want to increase national debt by accepting federal funds to pay for expanded Medicaid in the state, while others said they didn't trust the federal government to pay for the program as promised, according to the report. The Wyoming House of Representatives will not consider a parallel Medicaid expansion bill.

6. Epic faces lawsuit regarding overtime pay for technical writers
Two federal lawsuits were filed on behalf of former Epic workers alleging the Verona, Wis.-based company owes them overtime pay, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. According to the lawsuit, the workers were technical writers who allege Epic classified them as being exempt from overtime wages, so they were paid a fixed salary regardless of how many hours they worked. The two lawsuits are nearly identical, though one was filed on behalf of a group of technical writers who were working at Epic as of April 2, when the company emailed workers an agreement to arbitrate wage claims, according to the report. The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of employees no longer working at Epic as of April 2, so they would not have received that email.

7. Boston hospitals scramble amid record snowfall
Historic levels of snow in Boston left hospitals scrambling to get discharged patients out and much needed staff in, according to The Boston Globe. Because of accumulating snow, many hospitals had to cancel nonemergency surgeries, hire taxis to transport stranded discharged patients home, rely on Boston police officers to transport staff members to work and ratio stockpiles of linens to ensure they would not run out. Massachusetts General Hospital Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness Paul Biddinger, MD, described the situation as a capacity crisis.

8. 10 California hospitals penalized for medical errors by state
The California Department of Public Health issued penalties Wednesday to 10 hospitals totaling $700,000 after investigations found issues that caused or were likely to cause serious injury or death to patients. The CDPH found various patient safety issues at the hospitals during investigations, such as improper discharge planning leading to a patient being abandoned on the side of the road waiting for a ride, allowing a patient's family access to a device dispensing narcotics, which led to the patient receiving 19 doses in a short amount of time and then dying nine days later, and giving a patient a vaccine against physician orders, which resulted in a serious eye infection and blinding of the patient. To view a list of the 10 penalized hospitals, click here:

9. Cerner 2014 financial results indicate best year yet
Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner announced its 2014 fourth quarter and full year financial results, demonstrating a year of record growth. The company's revenue for the fourth quarter of 2014 was $926 million, up 16 percent from $795.3 million in Q4 2013. Cerner reported a FY 2014 revenue of $3.4 billion, up 17 percent — or half a billion dollars — from $2.9 billion for FY 2013. Additionally, Cerner's Q4 2014 bookings reached an all-time high at $1.2 billion. Bookings in the same period last year were $1.1 billion.

10. Medtronic pays $2.8M in false claims settlement
The newly-dubbed Medtronic PLC agreed to pay $2.8 million to the United States Justice Department to settle the false claims case alleging illegal payments to physicians in exchange for recommending procedures that weren't safe or effective, according to the Star Tribune. Medtronic denied any wrongdoing, and the charges were dismissed after the company agreed to pay $2.8 million with "no admission of liability."

11. Emory, WellStar in discussions to create new health system
Atlanta-based Emory University, which owns Emory Healthcare, and Marietta, Ga.-based WellStar Health System, the largest nonprofit system in Georgia, are discussing the prospect of joining forces to create a new health system. Over the next 45 days, the executive committee of the Emory University board trustees and WellStar Health's board of trustees will engage in talks concerning the formation of a new system.

12. Poor IT management, VA inefficiency among top federal issues
For the first time, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified poor IT management and inefficiency within the Veterans Health Administration as national concerns on its biannual High Risk List. The list contains a total of 32 issues. Within poor IT management, the GAO highlighted several projects resulting in waste, including $127 million spent on the VA Scheduling Replacement Project before the project was scrapped in September 2009, NASA's weather satellite network that cost $5 billion to develop before the government dissolved the system and the $1 billion obligated to the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Border Initiative Network program before it was canceled in January 2011.

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